As we slowly transform into a society that is relatively more accepting and aware of mental health and its stigmatisation, the conversation around it gains momentum. However, with the kind of expeditious lives we are living today, it is certain that the conversation is not only urgent but also more complex than it has ever been. Studies have shown an interesting co-relation between one’s social media behaviour and mental health. And while these statistics are still nascent and only begin to scratch the surface of a phenomenon we don’t entirely understand, they do provide insight into the potential trajectory of our growth as a species.
Like every other millennial, 26-year-old Vikramaditya Sharma, was unaware of his rapidly deteriorating mental health until he found himself experiencing an anxiety attack in an Ikea parking lot “while trying to single-handedly haul a king size mattress” into the boot of his pickup truck. “It was in this parking lot that I discovered true bone-deep loneliness”, he writes while opening up about his struggle with anxiety and depression on Instagram – something he’d been struggling with for years but only came to the realisation of after he decided to revisit the 1TB hard drive full of photographs he’d captured (for ‘The Gram’ and otherwise) over the years. “On revisiting my work, I found myself guilty of displaying signs of depression years before my hands became irreversibly sweaty at the Ikea parking lot in Dallas, Texas. My photos reeked of emptiness. My 1TB hard drive was the psychic evidence.”
A Rhode Island School of Design alumnus who now runs his own design studio called ‘Now Form’ in Delhi, Vikramaditya’s spiralling mental health issues may not necessarily have emerged from the use of social media, but they had begun to dominate his creative expression. In his photographs, he observed an absence of colours, muted tones, deeper hues and most importantly, a lack of human subjects. However, with his ongoing photo series called ‘Aurora Dotcom’, Vikramaditya is making up for all of that and more.
At first glance, Aurora Dotcom might seem rather strange, or even creepy — colourful, bare bodies, with their indifferent expressions, planted in Vikramaditya’s photographs of various empty public spaces. These auroras, or ‘fairies’ as he likes to call them, are a visual exercise through which he is trying to regain control of his mental health. “It’s me trying to add a sense of positivity to a memory that, in hindsight, was very lonely. It’s also very self-empowering and cathartic,” he says. “They’re a representation of me: even though I had this anxious and depressed side to myself, I was also very childlike and playful. And I wanted to accept and express both these realities.”
Although, Vikramaditya is actually quite aware of how people perceive Auroras, “some people find them terrifying, some get confused about how these things are made – are they sculptures or 3D prints. Others, who know the background, often find it hilarious too.” In fact, his fake subjects have also led some people to question him about why his characters are so obviously caucasian in their physical appearance. That, he guarantees, is a limitation of the software he uses to recreate these images.
But superimposing digital human anatomy on an old photograph to help instil a sense of positivity and direction in life is not as simple as it sounds. Going through his photo archives is often a very complex process for Vikramaditya, one that is rife with a range of pleasant and unpleasant emotions. “The act of going through old photos is very interesting. There’s nostalgia; there’s a sense of loss; you revisit emotions that you had, as a person who suffers from anxiety and depression, blocked out. There have been times when I have opened some photos and then decided that I am just not ready to go through them at the moment,” he says.
The name ‘Aurora Dotcom’ comes from two things that are very intrinsic to Vikramaditya’s personality — “Aurora represents a particular memory and Dotcom comes from the fact that I’ve always been a super nerd about internet politics. At one point, I was very fascinated by Kim Dotcom, the man who founded Megaupload, so I just decided to name my series after him”, he tells Homegrown.
If it wasn’t for the cheeky captions like “I literally cannot stand fake people” and an unrealistic skin complexion, I’d almost be willing to believe that some of Vikram’s work had jumped straight out of Europe’s renaissance period. And while he doesn’t exactly deny that, he is clear about the kind of message he is trying to convey. “At the end of the day, it is a commentary on the social media culture as well. With my quotes and captions, I also try to create a certain tone for Auroras. So that when you read it, you automatically imagine cool, hip twenty-somethings who have their own voice. But there is definitely a lot of thought and referencing that goes into many of my pieces too.”
Vikramaditya’s Auroras, I won’t deny, are quite outlandish in the way they pose, rather confidently, against extremely contrasting backdrops, but there’s also a peculiar sense of authority in how naturally they co-exist with their surrounding — a successful recreation of realities that are not limited to just art.
You can follow the Instagram series on his Instagram account.
This article is part of Homegrown’s month-long campaign called #HGHeadspace leading up to Mental Health Awareness Week. If you’d like to share your mental health journey with us, write in to [email protected]
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